Social Emotional Learning: Q&A With Dr. Mary, School Psychologist

The school years are more complex than ever. If it's not the curriculum, it's the relationships. Dr. Mary Rosen is here to provide answers to your most pressing school issues. She's a school psychologist, licensed counselor, graduate school instructor, and parent.

Today, Dr. Mary is addressing the topic of social and emotional learning skills.

Q: My daughter's 5th grade class has weekly lessons that focus on social situations. Why is our school adding this type of lesson and what are they hoping is the outcome?

A: I completely understand that this may feel very different than when we went to school back in the day, but we now know that, all things being equal, children do much better in school when they have skills to deal with their social relationships and themselves. Many schools are now teaching these skills in the classroom, to all students. Children are taught to calm themselves when angry, how to make friends, how to make good choices in tough situations, and how to handle disagreements with others in a respectful way. In school-speak, these are called social emotional learning skills (SEL).  
Teaching these skills is one way to address the issue of bullying in our schools. For example, children are taught how to recognize when they're getting angry ("My face is hot. My fists are clenched. I'm getting mad.") and how to calm themselves down ("Maybe I'll try counting backward from 10.") before they do something that will end badly. Bullies tend to have difficulty controlling their anger and will lash out aggressively at their victims. On the flip side, victims often react to bullies in an aggressive and retaliatory way, such as yelling or crying, which ends up making the situation worse. Both "types" of children have trouble keeping their anger in check. Learning how to handle anger (as well as other strong emotions) can have benefits for all.
Similarly, another set of skills that's taught involves how to make and keep friends. We know that having good friendships (or at least one best friend) can help keep kids from being victims of bullies because bullies tend to pick on those kids that have fewer friends or whose friends are also victims. Because some children lack confidence and aren't naturally socially savvy, teaching them very specific ways of talking to others and making friends can help them become better liked and therefore less likely to be picked on.
All kinds of good things come out of SEL programming. Among other things, skilled children score higher on achievement tests, participate more in their classrooms, have more positive attitudes about school and learning, and can deal better with school stress. However, as you'd imagine, the benefits reach far beyond the classroom.
Got a question about school learning or behaviors for Dr. Mary? Leave it in the comments below or email us, and Dr. Mary may answer your question in a future post.
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